Last Updated: 10/01/2013*

From the era of Old Ironsides to today, no U.S. warship has ever been able to use its own weapons to accurately strike back at an attacker over the horizon.

Those days are over. This week the U.S. Navy awarded Raytheon a $243 million contract for 89 Standard Missile-6 interceptors, moving the program from low-rate to full-rate production.

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Launched from a U.S. Navy ship, a Raytheon Standard Missile-6 uses AMRAAM seeker technology to take out "over-the-horizon" threats. (Download High Res Photo)

The transformational weapon gives the U.S. Navy something it never had before— a missile that doesn’t require the shooting ship’s radar to guide it throughout its flight.

“The SM-6 is the most sophisticated fleet air defense weapon deployed in the world,” said Jim Normoyle, Raytheon’s Standard Missile-6 program director. “Its introduction into service signals a new era of fleet defense.”

Stealing a page from the fighter pilot’s playbook, the Standard Missile-6’s eyes and brains are the same as the Raytheon-made AMRAAM, the most advanced air-to-air missile used by the U.S. Air Force and Navy and dozens of allied nations.

SM-6 combines the AMRAAM’s ‘beyond visual range’ seeker and embeds it into the tried-and-true Standard Missile airframe. 

“With SM-6, the U.S. Navy has basically quadrupled the amount of defended space it can protect because sailors are able to launch at a threat much sooner than ever before,” said Sean Lynch, Raytheon’s Standard Missile-6 Business Development manager.

Before SM-6, the U.S. Navy didn’t have a weapon that could engage flying targets outside the visual range of a ship’s radar. Guns were powerful, but it was difficult to hit fast-moving targets. That meant a speedy, aerial enemy was safe as long as it stayed below the horizon or behind terrain.

“Like the AMRAAM, the SM-6 can receive target updates after launch,” said Lynch.  “Shortly after it leaves the deck, it starts receiving uplinks with updated target information from other ships or airborne platforms via the shooting ship.” 

Full-rate production is a big step for a program built on big history. In the years after World War II, the U.S. Navy sought to create a series of defensive weapons that could protect the fleet against the threats faced throughout the war.

“More than sixty years later, the SM-6 represents the cutting-edge compilation of decades of best practices,” said Mike Campisi, Raytheon’s senior director of Standard Missile-1, - 2, and -6 programs.

Raytheon’s SM-6 takes on three key missions: enhanced Anti-Air Warfare, over-the-horizon protection, and in 2015, terminal ballistic missile defense.

Mission 1: Enhanced Anti-Air Warfare

Simply put, SM-6 gives warfighters a transformational fleet defense capability protecting ships and their sailors from aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and land-attack missiles, and anti-ship cruise missiles in flight. SM-6 can accomplish all of this over sea or land.

Mission 2: Over-the-Horizon Capability

When it comes to fleet protection, defending against threats that are ‘over-the-horizon’ is the holy grail, extending the defended area from fleet defense to area defense. SM-6 allows the US Navy to “shoot the shooter” before they can fire their missiles at troops ashore or sailors afloat.

Mission 3: Terminal Ballistic Missile Defense

Similar to its close cousin, the Standard Missile-3, the SM-6 will take on a ballistic missile defense role in 2015, and when it does, it will be the only missile in the world to be capable of the three missions outlined above.

The missile is built in Raytheon’s new $75 million, 70,000 square-foot SM-3 and SM-6 all-up-round production facility at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.

 

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An SM-6 missile is loaded into a specialized container at Raytheon Redstone Missile Integration Facility for delivery to the U.S. Navy. (Download High Res Photo)

The SM-6 program has had a series of noteworthy milestones. In August, a SM-6 destroyed a cruise missile target as part of a test designed to verify the missile’s performance with its new AMRAAM processor. 

The same month, the U.S. Navy fired two Standard Missile-6 interceptors from the USS Chancellorsville, successfully engaging two cruise missile targets in the missile's first over-the-horizon test scenario at sea.

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